Hail to sunshine!
If you live in Halifax, you know that summer means more fog and rain than it does sun. Four consecutive days of rain in July makes you long for blue skies and warmth. If there are 362 twin-turbocharged German horses attached to a convertible top sitting in your driveway, that longing is multiplied tenfold. Which is why I’m sitting in my living room at 7:30 on a Saturday morning and staring at two things. The fog and the weather channel.
Nova Scotia is a big province with some very diverse weather patterns. Diverse enough that if I look hard enough I can probably find some sun. There it is. Sunshine. Forecast for noon. 250 km away.
Around here, that’s not very far. And since my house isn’t supposed to see the sun for another three days, we’re in the car by 8 am. Fog and rain at home means top up…for now. Set the C43 to comfort mode and it eats up the highway kilometres taking us to the sun in quiet and Teutonic comfort. There is a wind whistle that’s grating on my left ear, and something in the top mechanism squeaks over every bump, but Mercedes has a solution to annoyance noise.
It’s a 13-speaker Burmester stereo. With 590 watts and multiple modes, this system is sharp. No, really. Take a look at those speaker grilles. Just don’t run your fingers over them. They’re sharp enough to slice you. But they look amazing. A quick flick of the volume dial takes care of any unwanted noises you might hear.
Then after an hour, it’s time to turn north.Off the highway and things are getting twistier. The rain and fog have faded, but the sky is still grey, so we’re just planning to spend an hour or two hiking at Kejimkujik National Park before resuming the pursuit for the sun.
Up until we entered the park, I’ve had the amazing AMG exhaust set to loud. I’ll talk more about it later, but in a national park, it feels wrong making this much noise. I toggle the button for quiet mode, and I’m glad I did. We see a deer having lunch along the main road and stop to take a look. The C43’s stop-start mode shuts down the engine so that we can sit and watch silently. Until a diesel pickup thunders by and scares the deer off.
It’s warmed up enough now that as we leave the park the top goes down. Finally! It only takes about 15 seconds, but waiting for the roof to open feels like an eternity. Fortunately, Mercedes lets you open or close the top at up to 60 km/h, which means that I don’t have to stop and wait. So I don’t really care how long it takes.
The top is down, and I toggle Sport + mode. That firms up the dampers, turns up the throttle response, turns the exhaust to loud, and lets the transmission hold a lower gear more often. The nine-speed can even handle skipping multiple gears on the way down the range.
With the exhaust set to loud and my right foot set to the same, the Mercedes-AMG C43 AMG 4Matic comes alive. It has just 362 horsepower (side note: has 362 hp really become just a “meh” number in a compact car?) and hits 100 km/h in well under five seconds. But it sounds faster. Much faster. It’s difficult to explain just how good the AMG exhaust sounds. It doesn’t sound like a big V6 with twin-turbos. It sounds like a small V8. It burbles loudly at idle, and the sound grows when you touch the gas. Full throttle launches make themselves known with a roar and a resounding pop that accompanies every shift. Downshifts result in that same pop and I couldn’t help but run up and down through the gears using the steering wheel mounted paddles. It’s like it knows it’s the little brother to the V8 of the C63, but is trying to make up for the power deficit in noise. Fortunately for the neighbours, toggling the exhaust button again makes it nosy neighbour friendly.
The surprise is that despite my spending most of my time in the C43 enjoying the power and noise, I’m getting surprisingly good fuel economy. I drove this car hard and got 9.6 L/100 km average. Not bad for a car rated for 12.2 city, 9.0 highway.
The C43 wears 19-inch Pirellis that are just 225 mm wide, but that’s still enough for massive cornering force. The steering is quick to react and is surprisingly quick at just 2.1 turns lock to lock. It’s also very well weighted and the thick suede wheel feels great in your hands, although after enough distance it can get a little tiring for your thumbs to make the stretch around it. The all-wheel drive system is rear-biased, but it still understeers at the limit.
Inside the C43 is calm, even with the roof down. Pop up the wind deflectors and it’s easy to have a conversation even at highway speeds. The seats are heated, and my test car had the optional Climate Comfort ventilated seats. The ventilation is enough to keep them from getting sticky on a hot day, but it’s not enough to keep you cool. The Airscarf heated fan in the headrest is much the same. It’s noticeable at lower speeds, but it won’t warm your neck on the highway.
The open-top cabrio is $9,300 more than the coupe, and that’s a big jump to cut the roof off. But with the roof down and the exhaust blasting, it feels worth every extra penny. If you’re looking to move four passengers on a regular basis, you’re going to want to go up in size. The rear seat is too small for full-size adults, especially with the top up. Even top down though, foot room is at a serious premium. Better to treat that back seat as extra cargo space, since the trunk takes the coupe’s already small space and sticks a large convertible top in it.
The C43 can be optioned with just about every driving assist on the market. There are the usual radar cruise control (and Mercedes has one of the best systems out there) and lane departure warnings, but my test car also had Steering Pilot. That uses both lane markings and the car in front to keep you centred in your lane and help you steer the car. It seems like it could steer the car by itself in many situations, but Mercedes makes you keep your hands on the wheel. That makes the feature a lot less handy.
Infotainment control comes via Mercedes’ Command system and an 8.2-inch screen. The screen is not touch-responsive, so you need to use the dial and touchpad on the console. It’s not the most intuitive system. In fact, it can be downright frustrating at first. But spend some time with it, preferably sitting in the driveway, and it starts to make sense. The voice control and the ability to write letters on the touchpad become second nature. If you got this car as a rental you’d hate it, but spend some time with the system and you’ll appreciate how they’ve put so many features into it so well. And here’s the best part: you CAN control the climate control through it, but you don’t have to. Everything HVAC has a real button to use instead.
The C43 Cabrio is almost everything you want in a convertible. It’s fast, comfortable, and sounds amazing. It’s also expensive. My test car had most of the options sheet checked and stickered for $85,380. That’s a lot of money for a C-Class. And if you look one rung up on the option sheet, the C63 starts at $84,900. Instead of a 3.0L six, that car has a 4.0L V8 that makes 481 hp and sends it all to the rear wheels. And sure the base 63 isn’t as well equipped as that C43, but what’s a few thousand more in options when you’re already knocking on 90 grand?
Take it easy on the options list, and the C43 AMG Cabrio is exactly what you expect from a Mercedes convertible. And (and this might be the most important part of a car like this) it feels like it’s worth every penny of that price tag. Drop the top and punch that exhaust button and you’ll smile every time. Sun, rain, snow, doesn’t matter.
2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 Cabriolet
Price as tested: $85,830.00
Configuration: front engine/all-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 3.0 litre bi-turbo/9-speed automatic
Power/torque: 362 horsepower/ 384 lb-ft
Fuel (capacity): Regular (66 L)
Combined fuel economy ratings (L/100 km): 10.6 L/100 km
Observed fuel economy (L/100 km): 9.6 L/100 km
Warranties: 4-years/80,000 km (basic)
Competitors: BMW 440i, Audi A5